(This post contributed by Jeremy Schofield, Ace Fitness Certified Personal Trainer. You can find Jeremy weekly at Misdirected)
We, as a nation, are losing it.
Don't take my word for it. The American Psychological Association has determined that, for the first time in 10 years, Americans are exhibiting "a statistically significant increase in stress."
I can't imagine this is really a surprise to any of us. No matter your politics, your race, or your religion, I think we can all agree: There is some scary stuff going on out there.
Though you may not realize it, stress is impacting your ability to live life to its fullest. The fact of the matter is, if you are stressed-out, you are less capable of doing anything well. Whether you are a stay-at-home parent, a CEO, or a social justice warrior, stress impairs you just the same.
So, what do we do about it?
Ignoring That Guilty Feeling
We have a bit of a problem, as a culture. We're happy to pursue leisure in groups but very hesitant about it as solo acts. We relentlessly pursue process improvement and efficiency in business but ignore applying these ideas to our personal lives. This despite the fact that science has proved that rest regenerates the ability to perform.
We've got to get past feeling bad about feeling good.
We need to embrace self-care as the only way to continue to care for others. To care for ourselves isn't selfish. It is essential.
The famous "gas in a car" example holds up here. If you empty your personal "tank" serving everyone else, you've got nothing left for yourself. Once the tank is empty, you've got nothing left for anyone. Sound familiar?
How do we go about keeping our personal "car" running?
Pursue Your Passion
Do you enjoy something that no one else "gets"? Congratulations - you have already discovered a potential solution to stress. Throw yourself into your passion - Paint. Draw. Play. Create.
The whole idea isn't to impress anyone else. It is to enjoy it for yourself.
Artistic endeavor stimulates the brain while releasing accumulated stress. You get the excitement of realizing your vision, the experience of practicing your art, and a safety release valve from the stresses you've been accumulating. What more could you ask for?
But, maybe the arts aren't your thing. What else is there?
How about investigating the more spiritual aspect of life?
Whether bible study, prayer, or meditation, spiritually focused practices center our awareness, and have positive physiological effects like lowering heart rate and blood pressure, as well as increasing the amount of oxygen getting to the brain and other organs..
There are lots of secondary benefits as well. Yoga increases flexibility and strengthens the muscles of the "core". Tai Chi is renowned for its positive effect on balance and muscle tone. Meditation and prayer improve the ability to process and manage chaotic thoughts. Any (or all!) of these place you in a position to move forward with improved spiritual, mental and emotional health.
But, maybe spirituality makes you tense in and of itself - so much so that there is no way for you to comfortably use it for self-care. What else is there?
To Move Is To Relax
Believe it or not, one of the best ways to care for yourself is to move.
I can hear you now. "Jeremy, I want to relax, and you are telling me to exercise?"
Yes. I absolutely am. Because exercise is not necessarily what you've been taught to believe it is.
Exercise does not have to be about how much you bench press. Or how fast you run a 5K. Or how much better you are vs. the person next to you in Spin class.
Actually, exercise doesn't have to be about rapid movement at all.
Swimming is a great relaxer. Put on a jacket and go for a walk in your neighborhood, if it isn't freezing. Take the dogs for a walk. Go play with your kids or grandkids.
The simple fact that you are moving is a great stress reliever. No, really. Movement is one of the best ways to stop your mind from spinning around like a hamster on a spinning wheel. Most people do their best thinking when they are paying attention to something else.
And, then, once you are done with movement, you can begin to tackle those things sitting and waiting for you at your desk. Or in your laundry room. Or in the classroom. Wherever your stress might take you.
Arm Yourself and Fight Back
Do not allow yourself to be overwhelmed - to drown in a sea of stress. Find ways to overcome your natural reluctance to self-care, and take some "me" time.
But remember that doing it just once isn't enough. Just like diet and exercise, commitment is key. Take care of yourself consistently, and you'll be able to deal with your stressors much more efficiently. Without as much of the "tearing your hair out" kind of reactions.
Maybe today would be a good day to start.